“Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off. From now on, Punzel, we’re going to live by the sun and the seasons.” He picked me up and spun me around, laughing. “Our days will be endless.”

– Or Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller

In this book, 8 year old Peggy is taken by her survivalist father to live in a remote cabin in Germany. When she complains that she wants to go home, her father tells her that there is no home to go back to, that they are the last two people alive on earth and that everything beyond their patch of forest has been lost to “the great divide”. Peggy’s father is very young, it is suggested, filled with paranoia and ideas, and obviously traumatized by something in his marriage (which is hidden for the majority of the book). The book switches between sections of Peggy and her father making their life in the forest, with Peggy (or Punzel as she names herself) growing up in the shadow of her father’s increasing eccentricity and within the harsh environment of the forest, cut off from the rest of the world. With Peggy firmly believing her Father that there is nothing left but them and this life, and suitably afraid of exploring too far from their cabin. The other sections are Peggy at 17 years old, having returned to live in London with her mother, without her father, and clearly very sick herself.

We are told from the start that Peggy is an unreliable narrator, suffering from a memory disorder due to diet, and we can see her penchant for stories and make believe, so it makes sense that the book takes on a rather unrealistic, embellished feel as Peggy looks back over her past. During her time in the forest Peggy is writing herself a fairytale, of which she is the princess, to cover up the true horrific nature of what she experienced. It makes sense the way the story hints at various existing tales, as if Peggy is drawing on the stories she may have listened to as a child.

But it is a bit frustrating to read – although the writing is beautiful, it is also disjointed and the scene/subject often switches abruptly, leaving a previous idea hanging with no resolution. It is slow paced, meandering its way to the final reveal. The late nature of the pulling together of all the hints, pulling back from the fairytale to the reality, did make this a difficult book to read. Combine that with the disjointed ideas and slightly unrealistic feeling to it, I almost gave up on it. I’m mostly glad I didn’t. I spent a lot of the final chapters of this book anticipating the final twist, and reveal of Peggy’s condition, and the final set of revelations still did shock me. I didn’t really want to be right.

The book came together wonderfully. And yes, it is beautifully written. And the use of music , so wonderfully captured in the audio book , is amazing. (I was startled to read about what a “piano with no sound” was.) I wish there was an epilogue though, to see what came next, after the final reveal. It’s a bit annoying to stick with the book so patiently for no real resolution. It felt like we were just really getting into the tale, when it abruptly ended.

Audio book notes- this was a stunning audio book. The narrator effortlessly switched between male and female, spoken and song, and English and German. I am fairly sure the audio book quite possibly made this more engaging than it could have been, and it certainly brought the musical parts of the book alive.

This is how we must be with our minds. We must allow ourselves to feel their gales and downpours, but all the time knowing this is just neccesary weather. When I sink deep, now, and I still do from time to time, I try and understand that there is another, bigger and stronger part of me that is not sinking. It stands unwavering. It is, I suppose, the part that would have been once called my soul.

– Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

I finished this book a few months back and it still sticks with me. I devoured this book at the time- stealing moments to read on the bus, over a cup of coffee before work (two things I would never usually do.) It is not a perfect book – it does feel a bit dismissive towards medication, and there are some other parts that maybe shifted against me in the wrong way. Overall though, it’s a beautifully written, very honest and personal, account of living with mental illness, and coming to terms with it. I also loved the parts with the tweeted responses from other people as to their own reasons to stay alive- taking the book away from the author’s point of view to brilliant effect. And now, I have a bunch of quotes saved on my phone that I still read over when I need a moments comfort. Today, I am thinking about it too.

(Also: this will sound bad but I love how short this book is. I have too many long, clinical self-help books that, no matter how brilliantly written, just end up feeling like a chore to read.)

“And although I knew nothing of love, I knew that I had found it, and never wanted to lose it.”

– Entry Island, Peter May

“The Blackhouse” by Peter May blew me away, and I am beginning to realise the flip side of this: I am easily disappointed every time I read another of his books and no matter how good, it just doesn’t measure up.

Entry Island was like that – a good book, fascinating and moving in places, but also long and slow, and narrated gently and without life. (The audio book is excellent for accents and for making each character sound distinct, and the woman sound like woman, but it is utterly without life. whether this is the book or the narration is something to question though.)

Entry Island tells two stories – that of life in the Outer Hebrides in the 19th century during the potato famine and the highland clearances, and that of a criminal investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in his home on a remote Canadian island, the only witness his wife. These are tied by the secret and forbidden love between a crofter’s son and the lairds’ daughter in the past, of whose ancestors find themselves meeting in the present.

I had problems with this book, and the main one was the love story. What was it that endured so long? It never felt convincing, and it never grabbed me. The past was told very matter of factly, and the conversations between those in the past felt like they were talking for the benefit of explaining events to us, the readers, rather than talking amongst each other. It came across as stiff, and awkward. Consequently, the romance suffered. The romance should have been heart breaking – young forbidden lovers who risked everything to be together, and lost each other in a moments chance. But every interaction between them was stale, filled with rigid conversation where they explain history to us – we never saw them simply laughing and enjoying each other. We were told they loved each other, but so rarely shown it. There was no heady feeling of being caught up in their emotions, unable to be without the other. In the end, Kirsty was spoilt and stifled, and Simon was locked in by circumstance. It moved me the thought of them looking for each other in the future, perhaps wanting to have that time to really fall in love though.

In the present, Simon and Kirsty were interesting enough. I felt for Simon – he isn’t a particularly likeable character, but I could understand him and his depression and subsequent insomnia. I thought Peter May did an amazing job of showing depression, and how quickly it can develop without a person even realising it, and how he withheld the labelling of it until the end to match Simon’s own slow awakening to his feelings was brilliantly done. I was not sure about the unsympathetic portrayal of Simon’s estranged wife, but I could understand that as the book was from his point of view that he would paint her as the villainess.

I did feel disappointed that this wasn’t actually a reincarnation book. The whole I have loved you before but do I love you know if my memories aren’t my own is a favourite trope of mine. Simon’s memories were that of diaries he had read, and his journey to discover the past was self-driven and consciously done.

The criminal investigation itself was a little obvious as to where it was headed, so as a thriller it didn’t work. But to be honest, I don’t think that was really the point of the book and I didn’t mind. As a look at a part of history I never knew about, and as a character driven book it just about did work and managed to hold my attention. I just wished there was more passion, I wish I had been on the edge of my seat praying for a happy ending, more caught up in it all. I admit I started this book and dropped it initially, so bored with it all, and only reluctantly picked it back up. The book only really picks up in the middle…and even then it’s the history that gets really interesting.

Oh, and I loved the irish character and how Peter Forbes narrated him. Peter Forbes, as gentle and unassuming as his narration is, really is great with accents.

It was Danielle and Gracie’s secret. A teenage adventure. A 1,000 mile drive along the spine of the Rocky Mountains to visit Danielle’s boyfriend in Montana. Their parents were never to know.

– The Highway, CJ Box

I initially enjoyed the Joe Pickett series by CJ Box. They had a strong sense of place and Joe Pickett was an interesting character. However as the series progressed I began to feel like the books were thinly veiled propaganda for Box’s views on life in rural Wyoming and the environment. I had no interest in being preached to through my fiction.

I really did love the location though and how Box brought it alive. So when I realised he had begun another series set in the wilderness and small towns of America I tentatively picked it up. And didn’t really put it down for two days.

This is a serial killer book, and this is a book about a truck driver who kills from place to place, which in theory could be untraceable…

Again, the location was interesting and vividly brought to life. The main detective Cody was not an interesting character though and the way you know the villain at the start confused me. But as the book went on and everything twisted up it became tense and absorbing. I particularly loved it when the focus shifted to Cassie Dewell, Cody’s partner. She is a single mother with a binge eating problem, new to law enforcement and only hired for diversity. Her struggles with her family, her job, and her dependence on junk food was something I could sympathise with and relate to in a way. I liked that she wasn’t a genius or a hard worn old timer, and it felt refreshing to see the investigation from a newbies eyes. It added an extra layer of tension, waiting to see if she would succeed or not.

The ending was also daring. I was surprised Box went there, and I felt for Cassie. But it was a powerful, chilling finish.

I did find the villains a little overly villainess and some of the dialogue was a bit clunky. I also did not like how sometimes abbreviations were used followed by its meaning in brackets, and sometimes a term was used fully and then abbreviated in brackets. There was no consistency, and often their usage felt unnecessary even and it read as if Box wanted to show off his research. He would use these abbreviations awkwardly, and the surrounding explanation could also be very dry, like I had suddenly stopped into his research notes. It’s amazing how lovely and vivid his writing can be in some parts, particularly the location descriptions, and how stilted it can be in others.

I also felt like there was some back story I was missing around Cody, but only now have I realised this series is spinning off from a previous book.

Overall though I enjoyed it. I wish the next in the series was out on paperback but it seems this is a very new series. I’m interested to see where it will go through.

When exactly did I give myself over to sleep? When did I stop resisting…? I used to be so lively, I was always wide awake – but when was that? So long ago it felt like ancient times. Like scenes out of the most distant past, panoramas of ferns and dinosaurs that spring roughly to the eye, vividly colored, my memories of that time always appeared to me as images shrouded in mist.

– Asleep, Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favourite novels ever. It’s a little strange but engaging and never fails to make me cry with its stark portrayal of grief. After reading Asleep I think that perhaps grief and loss are a central theme in Yoshimoto’s work. This is a collection of three short stories, and each is centered around a death.

In the first story Night and Night’s Travelers a young woman is dealing with the sudden death of her childhood sweetheart. Interestingly, the story is told from the point of view of the younger sister of the boyfriend, one year after his death. Like Kitchen, her plain, matter-of-fact writing is undeniably powerful. She writes about grief and loss in a painful, realistic manner. I cried like a baby reading Kitchen and after just finishing this first story in Asleep I cried too. I also loved the underlying darkness to the story. Satomi’s jealously never explicitly stated, but always there. She was an outsider looking in at her brother and his relationships and you could feel her alienation, her resentment and her jealousy.

The second story, Long Songs, was my least favourite. A young woman finds out someone she knew has died, and this makes her rethink their relationship. In this story the lines between reality and something else is blurred and it’s never clear whether there is something supernatural going on or not. This was interesting, but ultimately it did not leave as strong an impression as the other two stories of the trilogy.

It was the final title story that was my favourite and which affected me the most. It’s a little disturbing this story, again the lines between reality and some other is blurred, but here it comes across as more obvious a slip in sanity rather than reality. Again the story is told from the point of view of a young woman, Teruko. She is involved with an older married man and their relationship is tinged by his circumstances. Meanwhile her best friend, who maintained a very strange job, has recently died. Teruko quit work because of her relationship and finds herself tired, sleeping all the time, beginning to lose focus, only being able to wake up when her boyfriend calls. I could relate to this strongly. The escape of sleep and how it can eventually trap you is something anyone who suffers from depression or low moods knows. I feel like that has been happening to me over the past few years – becoming exhausted, finding myself questioning whether something happened or I dreamed it because the lines between being asleep and being awake are so blurred, wandering around “with an unfocused look in my eyes” to quote Yoshimoto. It disturbed me to read this, it hurt. The ending made me cry. Like Kitchen, it is a deeply romantic, very sad story. It starts off disjointed and strange, as the summary I put of it probably comes across, but it comes together beautifully into something quite profound.

None of these stories feel unfinished or unsatisfying, none feel too short. Each story has the element of the surreal, and yet also manages to be very slice and life, and quite ordinary. I think…the emotions are ordinary, although the set-up of the story can be slightly absurd. but because at its core are the realistic emotions and feelings the stories become engaging and highly relatable. I loved this book.